Stuff the tea and biscuits and bring on the T-bones, Rioja and champagne
The SNP members of West Dunbartonshire Council who give unquestioning support to their lame duck leader.
By Bill Heaney
I should read the SNP website for West Dunbartonshire councillors more often.
Well, not really, it’s something I have been reluctant to do in order to keep my spirits up and my sanity intact.
However, on the eve of the annual budget, currently being prepared for rubber stamping by the SNP, in collusion with the Tory millionairess, Lord help us, I have just had a look at their Nat News section.
Which is headed with a story which says “SNP confirm no need for further cuts,” which we all now know is a lie.
Thankfully, the administration recognise that the annual budget is important enough to merit being their main story.
But it’s the fact that they consider the next important item they have chosen to highlight is this one: “Labour vote to give themselves free tea and biscuits” that concerns me deeply.
These items are inextricably linked, of course, since the money for the tea and biscuits for councillors attending meetings came out of budget petty cash until this year when the SNP administration decided to put an end to it.
It was an important step on their way to making the swingeing austerity cuts they propose to implement at the end of the month.
And announcing significant increases in the council tax and rent for social housing.
We already knew the SNP did not have a high opinion of their officers when they threw out their report which recommended that planning permission for the Lidl supermarket in Castle Street should be refused.
But they have put the tin lid on that now by confirming that they will set their 2019/20 budget at the end of March without implementing any of the savings options proposed by officers.
What’s the use of having officers on £100,000 a year if you don’t listen to them?
You will have read in this Notebook a couple of months ago that asking the officers to prepare a set of budget options was a waste of taxpayers’ time and money, since the tectonic plates of local government finance would have shifted by the time we got anywhere near the end of March. They have.
The life of a council officer in West Dunbartonshire must be about as fulfilling as a journalist’s whose stories never get beyond the editor’s wastepaper basket.
The Nat News tells us the SNP will also target extra investment and a range of important issues including: Support for victims of rape/ Support for low income families/ Support for children and young people and support for those living through the devastating impact of Universal Credit and wider Tory welfare cuts.
Their sensitivity about the problems facing low income families, children living in poverty and people on Universal Credit has just been illustrated in the fact (you can read the story elsewhere in The Democrat) that the Council are offering school trips to children from areas of deprivation at around £2000 a throw.
And telling unfortunate parents and guardians that if they manage to raise the deposit and make a few payments to account before finding it all too much for them then they will keep their money.
The Council will not return the money.
Their pettiness, thoughtlessness, greed, callousness one might even say, are illustrated by the fact that they consider the Labour and the Community Party’s decision to press for the retention of the tea and biscuits unwise.
Especially since that small-minded decision will have no impact on the budget whatsoever.
Someone sounding almost as pompous as their leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl has yet to utter a word of criticism (or a slap on the wrist) to the officials who, against guidelines, went dining with Council construction clients where £75 bottles of Rioja, champagne, £58 a time T-bone steaks and double portions of luxury fish dishes were drunk and devoured.
Cllr McColl has instead described the tea and biscuits as “a list of sensible management adjustments that will be made without affecting services”.
And to make sure the managers in question would suffer indigestion added that one of these “sensible suggestions” would be to reduce the number of managers in the Council, a saving of £400,000 saved each year.
Now that off-loading of officers is what I would call “astonishing”, not cutting out the tea and biscuits, which are estimated to cost around £2,000 a year, £40 a week – is far from astonishing.
Can it be true that managers earning cumulatively £400,000 were in fact worth so little that their services could be dispensed with without another thought.
The SNP’s intention is to save on Kit Kats and spend on seagulls by increasing pest control services which will bring in an extra £3000 a year.
The SNP also reckon they can save £14,000 by doing their own training and carrying out their own surveys, which surveys have revealed the public neither need nor want.
The truth of the matter is that the Council have approved £2.34 million of cuts for 2019/2020, resulting in a loss of 45 jobs.
This takes the number of jobs cut by the SNP to 86 in the past two years and the total of cuts made to £3.44 million cut from the budget, yet they have scrapped the public consultation?
I could go on, but it’s boring listing the faults of this basket case council.
To illustrate how wide of the mark he is, Council leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl, accused Labour and Community Party councillors of voting to give themselves free Kit Kats “and take work and development opportunities away from Council employees to put more money in the hands of private consultants,” alleging “this shows exactly where their priorities lie”.
He added: “”The veil has really slipped this time and I hope voters remember that Labour and the Community Party value themselves and their private sector pals more than services for local people.”
Really Jonathan? Perhaps you will reconsider this scurrilous statement in the knowledge of how close your officials (and their partners) have been while carousing with their “private sector pals”?
Perhaps we could discuss this over a glass of champagne in a rather nice restaurant with a double portion of monk fish for you and a medium rare T-bone steak for me?
Rioja would be the wine of choice since so many old Spanish customs are in vogue around West Dunbartonshire Council.
You can pay, of course, with the money you have saved on tea and biscuits.
On second thoughts, I don’t think £2,000 would be enough to cover that kind of hospitality on a regular basis.